In this set of videos two experts (Kenneth Folk and Nick Halay) go through the 13(?) jhanas

Several aspects of this video make me wonder - primarily, I find it curious that they can speak and move their limbs while being in a jhana. I notice Nick instinctively wipes his nose at 7:18, and rubs his eye a little later, all while supposedly in the third and fourth jhanas!

Can others with jhana experience or with experience in the pragmatic dhamma movement comment, and help me understand? What am I seeing here?

Are they really speaking of the same jhanas that we commonly understand from the teachings?

  • I don't see a problem with moving limbs while in jhana, but speaking is a bit too much! :)) Technically it's not impossible, but practically it makes you question the legitimacy. 13 jhanas sounds suspicious. Which ones do they name? I've not seen the video and not planning to :)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jul 14, 2015 at 21:33
  • @AndreiVolkov It's the instinctive wiping of the nose that got me, one doesn't get distracted by or even feel such things in or even around the jhanas. I've heard Ramakrishna Paramahansa - a spiritual giant was able to describe the lower jhanas while in them, but when he hit the higher jhanas he couldn't open his mouth. Right after a jhana for 30-60 minutes the voice isn't even normally loud, it has a tendency to become soft. Speaking normally as they do is usually too harsh on the meditator, and forcefully doing so pulls one out of the jhana, or its afterglow.
    – Buddho
    Jul 15, 2015 at 4:30
  • I suppose they define jhanas differently than you do. Looks like mine is not exactly same as yours either. Whether their definition matches ours or not, perhaps something could be learned from their experiences or is it all useless?
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jul 15, 2015 at 13:44
  • Personal jhana experiences can vary of course because of our conditioning. The Buddha warns of succumbing to an addiction of mere piti, and sukha, let alone the arupa jhanas. Yet, in my personal experience addiction isn't possible, but I can see how it can be addictive to some. When I'm getting the thought that this is so good, I don't want to end it, simultaneously a thought arises that this is just tripping on a drug, and the momentary addiction ends immediately. I suppose for some that thought won't arise. The most useful thing about the jhana for me is the cleansing - I feel so pure...
    – Buddho
    Jul 15, 2015 at 15:46
  • ...Hearted. It's like all my residual dust in my eyes is washed away even for a little while, and I get a glimpse of the possibilities of a mind constantly immersed in the bramhaviharas. If I'm behind on my regular meditation, then the quality of sleep and general demeanor for the next few days is generally excellent.
    – Buddho
    Jul 15, 2015 at 15:50

3 Answers 3


The mindstates talked about in those videos are more related to the notion of "vipassana jhanas" rather than the visudhimagga-style very hard jhanas.

Talking in Jhanas - A Clarification Of The Relationship Between Jhanas And Ñanas

If one is familiar with the stages of insight such as talked about by the late Mahasi Sayadaw (regardless of whether one feels they are valid or not), when one reaches what he calls the 11th nana (equanimity towards formations), and experiences a moment of discontinuity which leads to a profound perceptual baseline shift (regardless of what conceptual overlay one would like to such a shift), it does give access, to many yogis I have talked with and in my own experience, to at least 4 significantly formed physically based absorption mind states and depending on the yogi, 4 more after these which are mentally based. Regardless of what you want to conceptually call them, these mind states or mental postures or fabrications of mind or are able to be called up at will of mind all due to the first cessation of the senses or discontonuity that Mahasi Sayadaw talked of occuring after the 11th nana or whatever you want to term a mind state that is wide, all encompassing, as panoramic as experience can be, seeing all phenomena of mind and body at once, even the "assumed" sensations that are misread as "self", all a flux and all a flow.

The other 4 "jhanas" referred in those videos, have been called the "pureland jhanas" in the pragmatic tradition due to Kenneth Folk naming them so. They are simply mind states that are accessible to anyone with significant mental control over the territory just pre-cessation/discontinuity at what's been called 11th nana. Regardless of what one ones to conceptually call it, the territory right before a cessation of the senses occurs, a brief discontinuity, is fertile territory to fabricate some interesting mind states off of. Still just more fabricated compoundings though.


Unfortunately, the canonical definition for jhanas is too vague.

Quite secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, he enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied thought and sustained thought with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. (M.i,1818; Vbh.245)

Restricting only to the first jhana and Considering only the above, one could gloss over the seclusion part and interpret applied/sustained thought, rapture and happiness in any convenient way.

Probably the most superficial understanding would further conflate rapture and happiness as just some pleasant feeling, and regard applied and sustained thought as a very ordinary kind of concentration (e.g the one required to read or observe and describe something). Naturally, this would make jhana a very ordinary experience.

Richard sankman wrote a book about jhanas ("the experienxe of samadhi") where half of it is devoted to interviewing monks and lay teachers on how they interpret many of those things. Though some do not set the bar much higher, it seems none of them had such a loose understanding of jhana.

In a more traditional interpretation, the bar is higher (and jhana is nothing ordinary): the factors are more delineated, better identified and it takes a lot of practice to develop them -- like building the trust of an extremely scared animal. Even access concentration which precedes the first jhana requires some hard work.

But even here there are some disagreements (e.g. Can one hear sounds while absorbed?)

In any case, In this stronger interpretation, While it may take little time for a seasoned yogi to be absorbed (depending on how strong the factors are), i think the gross movements and speech are quite incompatible with this state. Thus, they might be telling a different story.

In my experience, the depth of tranquility and concentration before the first jhana makes it quite challenging to articulate long discursive thoughts without causing disruption -- e.g. the mere lookup for analogies to describe something would weaken the concentration significantly, as the focus moves away from the meditation object. Let alone speak such descriptions during the absorption, specially when we feel very disinclined to say a word or make disruptive movements as we progress towards it (say, when we are so focused that it requires significant effort to use any mental faculty that was already put to rest or to drive the mind away from the object of meditation).

  • 1
    This is a great answer. Especially the last paragraph. I can relate to that from my own practice. It is like one must be completely still in order to not cause ripples in the lake. It becomes so subtle that even the slighest movement will cause one to start over with the deepening of concentration and continued attention on the object. That is why i find it strange that they can speak and make hand gestures while doing that. Are they both having a rock-solid concentration allowing them to stray from the object in Jhana or they are not really practicing the orthodox Jhanas?
    – user2424
    Jul 15, 2015 at 16:26
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    Thanks, I have the book by Shankman downloaded, it just moved near the top of my reading list. In my experience too, speech is impossible even in upacarra samadhi or even when one is in sukha. Perhaps khanika piti is the last spot where I can speak without loss of concentration. When I've been in prolonged no thought states I have felt a distinct part of my brain start up every time I needed to speak, and shut down immediately after, so I know the meditative brain is distinct from the speech brain, and theoretically I suppose it is possible to operate both by rapidly switching to&fro.
    – Buddho
    Jul 15, 2015 at 16:30
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    @Buddho. There is also a book by Ajahn Brahm. It's called "The Jhanas" and it can be found here.
    – user2424
    Jul 15, 2015 at 16:36
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    @Buddho which sutta is that?
    – Ryan
    Jul 15, 2015 at 16:41
  • 2
    If one takes the Buddha's definition of a proper jhana attainer from AN05.28, then the bar is very very high indeed. Having developed the five factors of concentration one must be able to access any of the supernormal powers at will - walk through walls, become a thousand people and become one again, fly in the air. Even in the hushed biographies of Arhats of the modern day, the most common power is seeing into other's minds or having divine vision/ear. Neem Karoli Baba is someone who according to many students wielded such powers at will. I'd rather go with this benchmark than a diluted one.
    – Buddho
    Jul 15, 2015 at 17:11

Are they really speaking of the same jhanas that we commonly understand from the teachings?

The simplest definition of a Jhana I found in Abhidharmartha Pradipika (vol 1, p 71): collect and focus your wondering mind so it is not wavering and stays with the object to be so it is conducive to closer examination such that all properties of the examined known in detail. (Translation is mine hence may not be perfect.)

If you go by the 5 fold classification of Jhana and 4 Arupa Jhana and Niroda Samapatti the maximum you can come up with is 10 Jhanas though traditionally this is 8 plus Niroda Samapatti.

I find it curious that they can speak and move their limbs while being in a jhana

You lose your ability to speak once you do not have Vitakka and Vicara. Hence this looks fishy to be from a traditional perspective.

I notice Nick instinctively wipes his nose at 7:18, and rubs his eye a little later, all while supposedly in the third and fourth jhanas!

When you are in the 4th Jhana in the traditional perspective your bodily activities have calmed down. You do not breathe nor speak and perhaps even not move. Id do not think you can direct action beyond the 2nd Jhana when Vitakka and Vicara has ceased.

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